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Message # 27 | 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 | October 2, 2016


Surrender your rights. That sounds counter-cultural. As we flip the page from 1 Corinthians chapter eight to chapter nine, we find the same dynamic that is true of any other page of Scripture.  On each page of Scripture, we are called to live counter-culturally. And how is that true of 1 Corinthians 9? People within our culture demand their rights and yet this passage is going to exhort us to willingly surrender our rights.

Overview of chapter eight. Beginning in chapter eight and extending through chapter 10, Paul addresses the question concerning the Corinthian believers eating food offered to idols.  You can see the “bookend” and summary at the end of chapter 10.

1 Corinthians 10:24–26 (ESV) Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”

1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

We are taking a look into chapter nine this morning and therefore are still discussing the principle that was outlined in the first three verses of chapter eight.

1 Corinthians 8:1–3 (ESV) Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, let me offer a quick summary of chapter 8 to bring us up to the immediate context of which we will be looking this morning. Paul immediately introduced the topic of discussion in the first verse of chapter 8, that being a discussion on whether or not believers should eat meat offered to idols.  To answer this question, Paul offers the church an important principle in the first three verses of chapter 8.  That principle was that “true knowledge will result in loving others as you navigate gray areas in the Christian life.” Paul then goes on in the rest of chapter 8 to apply that specific principle to the discussion at hand – meat offered to idols.

Transition into chapter nine, Paul’s personal application of that principle. After unfolding the specific principle and an application of that principle for the Corinthians in chapter 8, Paul shares with the church how he personally applied that principle to them. He unfolds in chapter 9 how he set aside his liberty – to be provided for financially – so that he could further the gospel and build them up.

Purpose Statement. Be willing to surrender your rights for the furtherance of the gospel and the betterment of others.

Message Outline

Paul defends his apostleship and declares his rights (9:1-6).

Arguments against his apostleship.

Verse three indicates that there must have been at least some people that had questioned whether or not Paul was truly an apostle. While there must have been some who were denying his apostleship, it doesn’t seem likely that the Corinthians were. He isn’t so much defending his apostleship to them, as he is reminding them of the fact that he is an apostle.  He does this by means of asking a number of rhetorical questions. Each question expects to have a yes for an answer.

(1) “Have I not seen the Lord?” One of the requirements for an apostle was to have seen the resurrected Christ.  Paul didn’t even come to Christ until after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.  How could he have seen and been called by the resurrected Christ? This is why Paul’s unique conversion experience is so important.  Paul had seen the resurrected Christ, and his unique conversion experience (Acts 9:1-9) is evidence for this fact.

(2) “Are you not my workmanship in the Lord?”  The Corinthian church was evidence of his apostleship. They were his fruit. In fact, the leaders that they now argued over were as well fruit of his gospel work at Corinth.  Of any group they should have realized and embraced the legitimacy of his apostleship.

(3) “Do not I have the right to eat and drink, take a long a believing wife? Paul and Barnabas didn’t live like the other apostles. They apparently didn’t eat and drink in the same manner. They didn’t have wives. They were different, and maybe these differences communicated to some that Paul really wasn’t an apostle.

(4) “Is it Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” The fact that Paul didn’t get financial remuneration from them may have been confusing for some. Maybe they thought he didn’t receive financial support because he didn’t really deserve to be supported like the other apostles were.

Paul had rights.

Therefore, by means of these questions Paul outlines some proofs of his apostleship and some of the rights he possessed as an apostle.  (1) He had seen the resurrected Christ through the miraculous and unique experience he had on the road to Damascus when the resurrected Christ had appeared to him and called him both to salvation and to gospel ministry.  He was an apostle and possessed all the same rights as the other apostles. (2) He had every right to enjoy and partake in the common enjoyments of life.  The fact that he had chosen not to was no evidence at all of his not being an apostle. (3) He had every right to get married. He has already outlines his reasons for not being married. He saw his position of singleness as an advantage in his ministry work. (4) It is true that he chose to work, by being a tent maker; but this was not a necessity or requirement.  He denied himself this right for the betterment of others.

Barnes. To this the answer of Paul is, “We admit that we labour with our own hands. But your inference does not follow. It is not because we have not a right to such support, and it is not because we are conscious that we have no such claim, but it is for a higher purpose.[1]

Paul offers proof for his rights (9:7-12).

Paul has brought up a few different rights, but the specific right he is going to focus on throughout the rest of the chapter is his right to be paid for his spiritual ministry to the church.

Nature declares these rights (9:7-8a).

In one verse (v. 7) Paul offers three different analogies. In similar fashion as to the first 6 verses, Paul asked rhetorical questions to make his point. (1) Is it not true that a soldier receives his provisions (food, drink, clothes) without having to work for them himself? Of course he does. No one expects a soldier to go to war by means of his own money.  In the same way, shouldn’t a minister of spiritual things, be provided for physically?  The answer is an assumed yes. (2) Is it not true that those who tend a vineyard benefit from the fruit in the vineyard? Once again the assumed answer is yes. (3) In the same manner, those who care for sheep benefit from those sheep by way of the milk they produce.  In fact, many shepherds find their sole source of provision through the products they collect from their sheep.

Two potential notes. (1) These provisions seem to be inherent with the task not as compensation for the work. It is probably a slight difference but maybe worthy of further consideration. A minister does not get paid for what he does, he gets paid so he can do what he does. (2) Does Paul pick these three analogies due to their having been used to refer to the church in other contexts? We are in a spiritual battle and are referred to as spiritual soldiers. The body of Christ is referred to on a number of occasions as a vineyard. Pastors are shepherds tending a flock. There is rich imagery in these analogies that go far beyond Paul’s point in this passage.

The law as well declares these rights (9:8b-10).

Paul’s logical flow of thought here reflects “the scholarly exposition of Hellenistic rhetoric that first advances rational arguments and then an argument from authority.”[2] First, Paul logically argued from those things anyone can see in the natural order of living.  He then shifts to the authority of the Old Testament, specifically the law of Moses. “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain” (Deut 25:4).

Some have been confused by Paul’s use of the law at this point. In fact, more ink is spilt over Paul’s use of the law here than over what Paul’s point in the passage is. Much of the confusion comes as a result of how different translators understand verse 9.

1 Corinthians 9:9 (NASB95) For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He?

1 Corinthians 9:9 (NET) For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he?

God does care about the oxen, but that’s not his primary concern. Further study of the passage in Deuteronomy reveals to us that God is concerned about how we treat his creation – people and beasts. The passage discusses how a husband is to treat his new wife, how to treat someone who steals, how to care for those with leprosy, how to deal with a financial loan by a neighbor . . . and yes, even the lowly oxen are to be treated with care.

So then, what is Paul’s point in this passage? God’s primary concern is not over whether or not the oxen gets food, but that people are taken care of.  If you wouldn’t keep the grain that the oxen are treading down from them as they work, of course you’re not going to fail to provide for someone who is ministering to you. The principle inherent in the statement about the oxen in Deuteronomy is that those who work should receive benefit from their labor.

Spiritual ministry warrants physical provision (11-13).

“Paul makes the case that a minister who sows spiritual things in God’s field has a right to reap material things from that field.”[3]  In the same way that a priest in the temple would receive physical nourishment or sustenance through his spiritual service within the temple, a minister within a church should be cared for physically and financially due to his spiritual ministry within the church. This is the same argument that Paul offers in Romans. “For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Rom 15:27).

The command of the Lord (14).

Almost as a passing note but carrying an immense amount of weight, Paul references in verse 14 a command by Jesus. “The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). This “command” from the Lord is probably a summary of Jesus teaching when he sent the disciples out to minister town to town.

Luke 10:3–7 (ESV) 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. (Cf. Mark 6:7-11; Matthew 10:1-15; Luke 9:1-15)

Paul did not see himself as disobeying a command by the Lord, but that he didn’t make use of a right that was extended to any minister of the Gospel.  He writes in verse 15, “I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.”

So then what is his purpose?

Paul explains his purpose (9:15-18)

Let me start with, Paul’s purpose was not to insist on or maneuver for money from the Corinthians. His point in this passage is not to convince believers to pay their pastors well . . . although, he does a fairly good job of that.  His purpose is to clearly outline that he had a specific right, and he chose to surrender that right so that the Gospel would be advanced and these particular believers would be built up. Paul didn’t approach each ministry in this same financial manner.  There is indication that many if not most of the other ministries he was part of, compensated him financially for his spiritual ministry.

So then, should we draw some conclusions about paying ministers from this passage? Yes.  That would be an appropriate secondary application to draw. That would be an acceptable biblical principle to draw.  But, with that said, Paul’s primary purpose was to indicate that he was willing to sacrifice a significant personal right for these believers and for the Gospel. Let’s take a closer look at his thinking in verses 15-18.

Paul’s ground for boasting.

In verse 15 Paul begins a series of 5 phrases beginning with (gar) “for” and ending with verse 19. In these phrases he explains the reasons for why he has not made use of his rights. (1) Paul would rather die than to have to give up his grounds for boasting. [4]  In this context, this boasting is not the negative type of boasting that Christianity most often condemns, but instead refers to those appropriate avenues in which we find appropriate pride or great joy. There was something in which Paul found great joy and was greatly encouraged.  He passionately didn’t want to let that go.

(2) Before Paul acknowledges what it was that brought him great joy – that thing in which he boasted, he clarifies what it wasn’t.  His boasting was not in his proclamation of the gospel. He felt compelled to share the gospel. Paul realized that his call to the gospel ministry was of such a nature that he had no decision in it; and as a result found no particular glory in it. He was called into the ministry in a miraculous manner. The resurrected Christ called him personally. He was commanded to go and preach and had a direct commission from heaven.  In one sense, Paul had no room for debate or discussion on the issue. There was no hesitancy. He gave himself to the ministry completely. It’s not that Paul didn’t minister voluntarily, but he was compelled to do so. He couldn’t help himself.

In ver. 15 he had said that he had a cause of glorying, or of joy. He here says that that joy or glorying did not consist in the simple fact that he preached the gospel; for necessity was laid on him; there was some other cause and source of his joy or glorying than that simple fact; ver. 18. Others preached the gospel also: in common with them, it might be a source of joy to him that he preached the gospel; but it was not the source of his peculiar joy, for he had been called into the apostleship in such a manner as to render it inevitable that he should preach the gospel. His glorying was of another kind.[5]

(3) If Paul were to do gospel ministry of his own free will, he would have some ground for boasting in that. His reward is not in that though because he has been entrusted with a stewardship that mandates him to share the gospel.

(4) What then is his reward? What is that thing for which Paul finds his peculiar joy and boasting? It is that he can choose to do the gospel ministry free of charge. He gave up the right to be paid through the ministry so that he had a manner in which to show his willingness for doing gospel ministry.


Let’s consider a few applications, starting with the least significant to the most.

In regards to financial compensation to ministers.

There are two perspectives with which we can view financial compensation.  (1) From the perspective of the congregation. Paul outlines for us sufficient evidence or proof to direct a church to care for those who minister to them. It should be the church’s desire to adequately provide for their pastors. I’m glad to say that this church does this. (2) From the perspective of a pastor. I desire to be so motivated by the gospel ministry that I’m unable to do anything else but minister – regardless of whether or not I’m paid for it. I don’t ever want money to be my motivation.

A man whose heart is not in the ministry, and who would be as happy in any other calling, is not fit to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ. Unless his heart is there, and he prefers that to any other calling, he should never think of preaching the gospel.[6]

Willingness to sacrifice significant rights for the gospel and others.

More importantly and more specific to the point of the passage is the principle that we should all be willing to give up our rights for the work of the Gospel and the betterment of others. Paul gave up his right to receive financial compensation for his spiritual ministry to the believers in Corinth. In so doing the gospel work was furthered and the people were built up. Whether you are a minister or not, we should all be willing to sacrifice our rights for the gospel and others.


[1] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 153.

[2] Raymond Collins. Sacra Pagina: First Corinthians. (Collegeville, Minn: Michael Glazier, 1999), 338.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 412.

[4] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 226. . . . καύχημα, ατος, τό    (1) what one is proud of pride, boast, something to boast about (RO 4.2); (2) what is said in boasting boast, praise (2C 9.3); justification for boasting, right to boast (1C 9.16)

[5] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 163.

[6] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 163.

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